Lombardi close to return

LANCE HORNBY and TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:12 AM ET

TORONTO - Matthew Lombardi’s year-long wait is nearly at an end.

The centre didn’t want to jinx himself, but there seem little doubt this weekend he will get into his first game since last October. It has taken that long to clear the cobwebs from a severe concussion and then get back into proper playing shape.

“If I’m feeling 100% and confident, there’s a good chance I could play,” Lombardi said of facing the Detroit Red Wings in the coming home-and-home pre-season games. “But if we’re not sure and maybe things aren’t going as well, then we’ll make a decision. I don’t think it’s a negative either way. The progress has been great (far ahead of off-season projections). Whether I get in this week or on the next little while (Toronto opens the regular season on Oct. 6), it’s great.

“This was a big week for me in terms of how I felt with the body contact. You have to feel 100% about this going in, you have to be confident. If I feel that way, I’m going to play. Since the beginning I haven’t wanted to put an exact date on it. Because you never really know what can happen with this kind of injury.”

Club doctors and the coaching staff must also give their blessing on Friday. Lombardi can play centre or wing, which helps now that a couple of forwards are hurting.

OLD MAN IMPRESSES

Winger Colby Armstrong has not had to face Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom much in his NHL career, given that they have been with teams in different conferences.

But he obviously holds the 41-year-old Swede in awe.

“How old is he? It seems like he is 20 years old out there,” Armstrong said. “He never seems to get hit, he’s a good decision-maker, great defensively with his stick and body positioning. He does everything for them, from defence to offence.

“I have a ton of respect for him when he is on the ice. You have to be aware.”

ABSENCE OF MALICE

Plumbers Jay Rosehill and Mike Brown traded fake punches for several minutes after workouts on Thursday, each working on their fighting technique. But as defenceman John-Michael Liles noted, the Wings rarely employ enforcers or players that physically crush opponents, relying instead on hockey smarts.

LOOSE LEAFS

New assistant coach Scott Gordon escaped injury after tumbling backwards and banging his head on the ice. All he was wearing was a Leafs ball cap. “Maybe they should have special (protective) hats for coaches,” joked Gordon, a former Nordiques goalie ... General manager Brian Burke told Rogers Sportsnet this week that it doesn’t matter if the Leafs have all the pieces in place for opening night, given the recent spate of injuries. He is looking ahead to the week-long break that follows the club’s second game.


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